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Pence releases $200 million for interstate construction projects

– Gov. Mike Pence on Thursday directed state budget officials to release $200 million in funding for a highway construction program.

“I’m absolutely convinced that if you’re going to be the Crossroads of America, you better have the roads to back it up,” he said, surrounded by construction workers in union apparel and hard hats.

The legislation allows Indiana to add lanes to heavily traveled sections of four-lane interstates that are nearly 50 years old.

About $180 million of that money will be used on two major projects: expanding Interstate 65 between Indiana 44 near Franklin and Southport Road in Indianapolis; and I-65 in Lafayette from Indiana 38 to Indiana 26.

Bids will be accepted this year.

Lawmakers freed up the money in the recently ended session. Following the revenue forecast expected in December – and after Budget Committee review – an additional $200 million could be released for interstate expansion projects.

Indiana tax collections have been behind, but Pence said he is confident the money will be available.

Projects for that money include expanding I-65 in Lafayette from Indiana 26 to Indiana 25; I-69 from Indiana 37 in Fishers to Indiana 13 in Madison County; and I-65 from Sellersburg to Memphis in Clark County.

INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said $30 million of the second allocation has been set aside for an Allen County project, even though it’s a local road.

That project will widen Lafayette Center Road from the General Motors Assembly plant to Roanoke, which is about 3.7 miles.

Allen and Huntington county officials were instrumental in pushing for the project.

When complete, the road will essentially form an extension of I-469, connecting it to U.S. 24 in Roanoke. That will make a highway corridor from Toledo to Fort Wayne to Huntington, Wabash and west to I-65 at Lafayette.

Truck traffic is supposed to continue on U.S. 24 to I-69 and then go south to I-469, but that rarely happens: Of the 8,500 vehicles a day using Lafayette Center Road (also called County Road 900 North), about 17 percent are trucks.

Using Lafayette Center cuts 11 miles off the route. Most of that artery is a two-lane, rural road with little shoulder, not built for the traffic it carries.

By 2036, it is projected to carry 15,000 vehicles a day, with 20 percent of them trucks.

Plans call for rebuilding it into a modern road with one 12-foot travel lane in each direction and a center turn lane, expandable to two lanes in each direction. There will also be a bridge over the Norfolk Southern railroad.

Wingfield said it is considered an important economic development project for a major business corridor. The project wouldn’t begin until next year at the earliest.

Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma touted the “thousands” of jobs that will be created or supported by the projects, though he acknowledged some quibble with the estimate of 9,800 jobs.

“This is one of the most important pieces of legislation we passed this session,” he said.